House of Commons Hansard #20 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was coal.

Topics

Cancellation of Briefings on the Atlantic Accord
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The member is putting a question to the minister and question period is over. If the member has evidence that it has been transferred and that somehow privileges of members of this House have been breached, I am sure he will raise that on a question of privilege at some future date when he has that evidence, but to ask that of the minister outside of question period, it seems to me, is not a question of privilege. The minister can answer if he wishes, but I can see we will not get an answer at this stage.

On another question, the Minister of Public Safety did not get up and respond to the question of privilege raised by the member for Windsor West. I thought the government House leader was going to respond to that. I did not hear the Minister of Public Safety read from the document, so I suspect the member for Windsor West has raised a question of privilege, but I do not think there is one there. In order for him to require that a document be tabled, the minister has to quote from the document. It is my recollection of the practice of the House not to refer to the fact that there may be a document sitting around somewhere. In the circumstances, I do not think there has been, but I will review the answer the minister gave, and if there is a question of privilege or point of order, I will come back to the member for Windsor West and to the House.

Donkin Coal Block Development Opportunity Act
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3:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

When we were last dealing with Bill C-15, there were six minutes left to the hon. member for Saskatoon—Humboldt, and he has the floor.

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3:10 p.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, as you noted, prior to question period I was dealing with the Donkin coal block development opportunity act. For the benefit of members who may not have been in the House at that time, I will quickly go through the essence of the bill and then move to questions and comments.

The basis of this bill is a coal mine that was previously built and flooded over. It runs under the surface of and offshore the coast of Cape Breton. For economic reasons it had previously been shut down, but for economic reasons there is now a possibility of reopening it.

Offshore jurisdiction normally falls under the federal government, but because this mine is very close to the shore and most mines are on shore, there is a bit of a jurisdictional overlap between the provincial and federal governments. The purpose of this legislation is to sort that out and make possible the development of this mine off the coast of Cape Breton.

While there are many technical points regarding health and safety, economic development, et cetera, in general it may be said that the purpose of this legislation is, for legal purposes, to expand the jurisdiction of Nova Scotia a little way offshore in a broad non-technical sense. One may think of it in a legal sense as being very similar to a mine that is on ground, shall I say, in Nova Scotia, and not under the water.

My understanding is that all members of the House support the bill. It is a very good bill as far as respecting jurisdictions and promoting the rights of the province. It is a very good bill with respect to economic development. It is very fitting that today this bill is being debated on mining day here in the House of Commons.

In summary, let me say again why this government has proposed this bill and why I believe all members should, and hopefully will, support this bill.

It helps to support economic development in a region of Canada that needs it. It is not that all regions do not need it, but this area, where coal historically was king, can very much use economic development.

It helps to continue to build our mining sector and export oriented industry. While some of the coal will be used domestically, there is a very good probability that a large percentage of the coal will be exported, possibly for metallurgical or thermal purposes. The coal has the potential to be used for both but can be used either way.

This bill is also an example of cooperation between the Nova Scotia government and the federal government. Governments can work together. We have a complex federation. We have a complex series of governments to deal with the nuances and the needs of each region, to respect the local desires and needs, and yet unify our country as one grand confederation. This bill builds on that, both pulling together across the country and developing locally. It provides for the clarity and stability that all businesses need when they are doing it.

It is a bill that is good for Canada, good for Nova Scotia, and good for Cape Breton. There may very well be 275 indirect jobs created through private sector investment and 700 direct jobs. I congratulate the people who are showing the initiative to redevelop this mine, the people of Cape Breton whose industry and initiative are pushing this forward and the members who have supported it.

I urge all hon. members to support this legislation and future similar legislation from this government.

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3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, as parliamentarians we are all very much more aware of trying to reduce our carbon footprint. We want to be assured, though, as we go forward that the demand for energy is not going to subside any time soon and that the demand is going to remain high. It is imperative that clean coal technologies be embraced and developed. Canada has an opportunity to be a leader in that field.

Having had the opportunity to go out to the CANMET plant in Bells Corners and seeing some of the things that have been taking place at the NRCan research project, it has been very reassuring and encouraging with CO2 capturing and sequestration.

My colleague is from Saskatchewan. SaskPower is very much at the fore of a number of different initiatives. I have received a number of emails from people who are concerned about the further use of coal and fossil fuels. I want to reassure people that there are steps being taken and positive things being undertaken. I know the member's province is at the forefront with SaskPower, so he may want to elaborate on some of the great victories it has had in recent years.

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3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question the hon. member raises on coal and coal issues in general.

When we answer a question on clean coal, we first need to define what is meant by the terminology because the terminology “clean coal” has changed over the years. At one time many of the concerns were the sulphate particulates, the so-called, to use the slang that is often used, the SOx and the NOx particles that are emitted.

Over the years that has evolved and become more and more of a concern. Currently, the term is being used to talk about carbon dioxide and, in particular, carbon dioxide captured or sequestration. There are several different approaches to the term. The terminology is flexible.

The coal industry across North American, and in Canada especially, has been very good at developing clean coal technologies to take away those pollutants that previously were there.

In the last few years, with the emphasis on shifting to carbon dioxide, the industry began to shift over to deal with that particular problem.

The Province of Saskatchewan along with SaskPower have been looking at developing and working with technology and is looking to partner with other thermal producers of electricity across the country. Their decision has been to not push quite as aggressively forward as they had previously been thinking with clean coal. It does not mean that they do not view it as having a potential for strong development, but it has to do with various scale sizes in Saskatchewan's economy, the potential to ramp up and to go with natural gas.

The overall future for clean coal is very good. The technology is developing. The one thing we always have to be cautious about is that particular types of coals need particular nuances for certain situations. However, various technologies are being developed by both government and private industries to absorb, sequester or merely use for other purposes the carbon dioxide that is being emitted from coal plants.

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3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Robert Thibault West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to discuss this bill, one that is so important for Nova Scotia and particularly Cape Breton Island. This bill demonstrates the entrepreneurship and courage of the people of Cape Breton, who have never lost hope regarding the issue of coal in their economy, their province, their corner of Canada.

If we look at the history of Nova Scotia and, in particular, Cape Breton and other parts, coal brings about the worst and most difficult stories in our history and also the best. We know of the mining disasters. We also know of the labour strife over the years, the beginnings of the industry which was a near slavery type situation for the workers in that industry.

We also know what it has brought to our province in terms of immigration into our province and developing a culture. The songs of Cape Breton alone are great cultural riches to Canada and a lot of it relates back to the growing and the beginning of the implementation and continuation of the coal industry.

Therefore, it was a very difficult day in Cape Breton in that whole economy when we had the loss of the last operating deep mine. It is a great pleasure to see the renewal of this industry and to look at the courage of the people of Cape Breton who never lost faith. The labour unions and the skilled people who worked within those mines never lost faith. They knew of the potential of Donkin. They have had great support and leadership by their members of Parliament, the member for Cape Breton—Canso and the member for Sydney—Victoria who worked ardently on bringing this to where we have it now.

One of the problems that we encounter when we deal with a project like this that is a little bit off the beaten path, slightly different than the others, is that the basic infrastructure for the mine is on land and the resource is under the sea.

If we look at the jurisdictional thing, it becomes a question of who owns it. Is it the responsibility of the Province of Nova Scotia? Is it the responsibility of the Government of Canada? We have been unable to resolve that discussion. Even at this point we have been unable to resolve that argument in ownership.

At least what we have here is an agreement among the two, that the most important thing is the communities, particularly the communities of Cape Breton in this region, and there is a possibility for economic development.

This bill brings us to an accommodation where no party abandons their jurisdiction. The federal government still claims ownership of the resource because it is the sea floor. The provincial government still maintains that it has a right and responsibility for occupational safety and environmental regulations, as do the feds. However, we have come to an agreement where the province will be the regulator and will adopt the federal law, implement federal law and be the agent that will be dealt with in all these matters with the acting companies. I think it is a very good arrangement.

I agree with the member for Charlottetown who said earlier that it would be good if we could have some overarching legislation or proposals in this country that could take care of situations like these in the future because this has kept that community in stress for a long time. For a number of years the community has wanted to redevelop that mine. A very large international company with a good reputation in that field was interested in doing it but it needed a lot of patience because it was a three or four year process and the legislation was not done. We are doing it now but we must wait for the regulations and get the work done. It would be a lot better if we could have it faster in the future.

I was dealing not so long ago on behalf of the federal government with the Province of Nova Scotia, working with the offshore oil industry that was looking at getting permits to operate on the Nova Scotian shelf. Because of those same types of disputes as to who the regulator is on occupational safety, who the regulator is on labour and who the regulator is in all the other fields, both of them claimed jurisdiction, so we ended up with two sets of regulations. The approval process ends up taking two, three or four times longer than it would in another active field in other parts of the world.

If that time could be linked to better operating conditions, then it might be understandable, but it cannot. It is not that we do a better environmental job on those or that we ensure better safety for our people. It is just the bureaucracy and the technicalities of getting those permits which are so difficult.

We have come a ways a bit and have some agreements in Nova Scotia on the offshore that we have been able to improve through the smart regulation process started in the Chrétien days.

We just had good results in my community. A large quarry in a beautiful, pristine community wanted take away all the basalt rock and ship it to the U.S. It did not want to destroy its communities so it tried to excavate the seashore in Nova Scotia.

However, there were federal and provincial jurisdictions. On the socio-economic side, the Province of Nova Scotia was the only one that could stop the proposal. The federal government maintained responsibilities on the establishment of a port and on the environmental questions related to the fisheries and seawater, as well as some elements of the groundwater in the province.

The resolution we found at that point was to have a joint review panel under the Environmental Assessment Act of Canada join with the review panel of the Province of Nova Scotia to create one review panel where the laws of both apply. Dr. Bob Fournier, who chaired that panel, heard from experts and from the community and came out with a recommendation not to pursue the project, which was a great relief to the people of western Nova Scotia, although maybe not unanimously. Some people would have liked to have seen the jobs associated with it, but most people did not want to see that type of activity in their community. On that side it was the provincial regulations that prompted the provincial responsibilities.

From the federal side, Bob Fournier made some interesting points on an environmental side and the whole seacoast of Nova Scotia. That was a good area of cooperation but we want to see more between Nova Scotia and the Government of Canada. As has been pointed out in this House today, for Nova Scotia to advance there needs to be that type of cooperation with the federal government.

It was a great day when the prime minister at the time, the member for LaSalle—Émard, met with the member for Halifax and, with the Premier of Nova Scotia and the minister responsible for petroleum development, signed the Atlantic accord, the Canada-Nova Scotia agreement. It was a beautiful day because not only did it bring us some much needed money to do the economic development and those projects that we needed in Nova Scotia, but it also signalled cooperation for the future. We could set aside some jurisdictional disputes and problems and look at how we could improve the lives of people, and all of Canada benefits from that.

We must understand how disappointed Canadians were when the budget was presented in this House by the current government and, after it had specifically stated that it would support that agreement, it demolished the agreement completely. Nova Scotians know that $1 million were lost in Nova Scotia. What probably bothered them more than that was the pretence over the summer months that the Prime Minister and the premier had resolved it and that they had come to a mutual understanding that would restore the Canada-Nova Scotia agreement.

However, I know that to be false. I know the offshore Canada-Nova Scotia agreement, as well as that with Newfoundland and Labrador, meant that those provinces would benefit from revenues from the accord above and beyond revenues of any new equalization program, any changes in equalization or any other programs of the federal government. The benefits under the accord would be above that.

The Conservatives have said in their exchange of letters, as best as I can understand it and as every analyst has told me so far, that the provinces can choose either/or in any of the given years whether they want to go by the provisions of the new equalization formula or of the old accord, which is a little better than what was put in the budget last spring but is not still the full accord.

I do not know exactly what the loss will be. I would guesstimate in the area of $600 million for Nova Scotia but I cannot say for sure because the government will not show me the information. It will not provide it. What we have seen is an exchange of letters between the Minister of Finance of the federal government and the minister of finance of the Province of Nova Scotia. When we listen to what these people have said, specifically the Prime Minister in the press conference in the foyer when he was with the premier, he said that there would be no stacking. The Atlantic accord is stacking. That is the principle of the accord and that is why it was of such benefit for economic development for Nova Scotia.

The member for Cape Breton—Canso, on behalf of Nova Scotia Liberal members, arranged to have a briefing. The government said that it would have a briefing but that it would have to be with all Nova Scotia MPs. We agreed to that because that was understandable.

One briefing was arranged for a late Friday afternoon. For members from Nova Scotia, myself included, it takes an hour to get to the airport and on the flight. Then it is a two hour flight. Then it takes about three hours to get back to my riding. I had intended to leave as early as I could on Friday afternoon, but this meant I would have to go home on Saturday and I would lose the best constituency day of the week. I agreed to stay here. Then that meeting was cancelled.

I think there was no intention of having the meeting. The intent was to have us wait around here and then cancel at the last minute.

My memory does not permit me to recall the fourth meeting, but I will talk about three of them. Another meeting was arranged during the week of the November 11 break, when everyone was in their constituency. This meant that 11 MPs and a bunch of senators would have to fly back, at the taxpayer cost, to spend a couple of days in Ottawa, perhaps only one, for that briefing. I would have lost those days in my riding.

I attended the November 11 celebrations with students at a number of schools in my riding. I visited the veteran's wing at the Yarmouth hospital and spent an afternoon with the veterans. I would have had to cancel two days of those meetings to be in Ottawa for that briefing.

However, the member for Halifax West raised a point of order in the House. The minister agreed to move the meeting. The parliamentary secretary said that the meeting would be held this morning, November 20 at 10:30. Fourteen minutes before the meeting, we found out that it had been cancelled. No reason was given for this cancellation. We only saw the officials scurrying down the hall to the elevator. They had received their order from on high that there would be no briefing. What do we have? We do not receive a briefing.

Another briefing was planned, but I cannot give the details because it escapes my memory. However, four briefings were cancelled.

I do not think the federal government ever had any intention of explaining to the people of Nova Scotia the details of that supposed agreement between the premier of Nova Scotia and the Prime Minister, which would have restored all the provisions of the Atlantic accord.

This is a shame. Before the election, the Prime Minister sent a flyer to every house, saying something about the worst lie was a promise not kept. He promised to support the accord.

I remember sitting on the government side and the Prime Minister and his ministers, who were on this side at the time, asked that the budget, which included the implementation of the original accord, be divided, so they could support the accord and not vote for the full budget. Opposition members at that time were willing to support the accord, or so they would tell Nova Scotians.

The instant the Conservative government got its hands on the levers of power, we saw in the first budget a warning shot. It said that the Atlantic accord was not well accepted everywhere in the country because it was a special provision. Sure it is a special provision. There are special needs. All these museums in Ottawa, financed by the federal government, are special provisions. They are not a per capita distribution of federal funds.

When our government invested in the oil sands in Alberta, we saw there was a great economic opportunity, and oil was not at the prices that it is now. We accelerated the cost allowance program for that industry so it could become what it is today, the great economic generator of the country. This was not done on a per capita distribution of special tax incentives. It was done as a special assistance to that part of the country because it had a certain potential, a certain resource and it was good for the country.

Many people from all over the country, including from my riding, went and found good work in that area. Hopefully some day they will return to my riding, with the expertise they have gathered there, and develop businesses and give employment in the area. It was that type of an investment as was the Atlantic accord.

The Atlantic accord gave some economic development money to Nova Scotia and to Newfoundland and Labrador so they could develop their provinces. The first $800,000 was delivered by the member for LaSalle—Émard and that went directly to pay off the capital debt of Nova Scotia, debt accumulated through the Buchanan years, with Greg Kerr as minister of finance of the day. We now were struggling with that debt. Finally, we would get some assistance.

Now what do we see? We see that promise completely reneged upon. That brings me back to the bill, which I support. I think it is a great bill.

The Conservatives reluctantly agreed to follow the direction brought by the member for Cape Breton—Canso, who virtually had to write it himself to ensure that the people of his province and his riding would have access to the opportunity, a chance to work hard on developing a resource that is part of their culture and tradition. He warrants the full support of the House and I hope all members will vote with the member for Cape Breton—Canso in support of the bill.

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3:30 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to comment on the diatribe that the member for West Nova has brought to the House today, with his rhetoric filled discussion on the Atlantic accord.

He does not realize that underneath the bill, Bill C-15, there is accommodation for the Donkin coal block, under the Atlantic accord, to allow royalty revenues to be shared with the province. We are talking about fairly significant royalties for both coal and for the methane gas that comes off of it. The coal bed methane is a 5% of value royalty, which is very significant and will be very good for the people of Cape Breton and Nova Scotia. The royalty going back to the province has a range of $5 million per year on the coal itself, which will all come out of the consolidated revenue fund. This is very significant and important. The only reason why we should talk about the Atlantic accord is on that basis.

The reality is this government was able to take the considerations of many members of the House from Nova Scotia and Atlantic Canada, including the member from Cape Breton, whose own party was unable to get the job done. Our party was very proactive in listening to the concerns that were raised, including from the member from Cape Breton. I appreciate his concern for his constituents. However, we also know of the hard work that was done by the parliamentary secretary for ACOA, who is the MP for South Shore—St. Margaret's. He put an incredible amount of work into this as well, along with the regional minister for Nova Scotia.

We have to realize that this side of the House finally got this done. After many years of negotiations back and forth, we were able to close the deal. It is a great news story, once we get this bill passed, and hopefully we can see it move fairly quickly through the legislative process. It will address all the concerns that have been raised.

However, let us talk about the economic benefits. I ask the member for West Nova to concentrate, and I know that sometimes can be difficult. Could he talk about the issue of economic development and how important this is for Nova Scotia and Cape Breton, even though Cape Breton and Nova Scotia have such a diverse economy, things are moving ahead and they are moving toward being a have province.

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3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Robert Thibault West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I will not fall in the trap set by the member by inviting me to talk about the Atlantic accord because that is not the purpose of the bill.

On the matter of economic development, I thank the member for raising that point because it is very important. When we look at that type of operation in the rural part of our country, it has economic spinoff. There is the opportunity for families to stay close to their home and raise their children in their area. All the ancillary businesses that will grow will provide services not only to those families but to this business. I do not think we can overestimate the value of that, maintaining that culture and providing those opportunities.

There has been a big change in Cape Breton and it has been very difficult. That change has happened all over Nova Scotia, as well as all other rural areas in the country. We have depopulation and the movement of people toward the urban centres or toward areas like the tar sands, for example, where there is a huge opportunity. Therefore, it is very good when we can have this type of attraction that keeps people there.

However, there have been other changes also. We have seen people investing in Cape Breton in non-traditional areas, high technology, robotics type machinery, manufacturing. I have seen some very good investments by the communities themselves to further develop the natural resources. The crab industry, for example, used to be shipped to New Brunswick for canning and processing. It is now done within the island of Cape Breton, which provides new economic input.

The Prime Minister said that Atlantic Canada had a culture of defeatism, but that is not true at all. Atlantic Canadians have courage and ambition. When they have the opportunity this bill will provide, they will make the best of it and contribute to their own well-being.

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3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, since coming to the House seven years ago, many moments stand out in my mind. One of the toughest moments was when I and my colleagues, the former minister for ACOA, the member Sydney—Victoria and the natural resources minister, the member for Wascana, boarded the plane and we went to Cape Breton, to my home town. We made the announcement that the federal government was finished in the coal mining business in Cape Breton. It was a tough day. Many of friends were involved in that industry. The impact that had on the community was significant.

However, our community is resilient. We are a tough group. We have moved on from there. As the member has mentioned, we have diversified as a community. I think quite a bit of that was because of a fund and moneys that were invested through his early stewardship through the ACOA portfolio. Therefore, Cape Breton Island has a much more diversified now.

This will be great legislation. Any legislation has to protect the interest of the greater public good. It is important that the legislation does not handcuff industry in moving ahead with these types of opportunities. Also what is important is we protect the health an safety of the workforce.

Does the member believe the legislation does those types of things: protect the public good, unleash the corporate sector, in this case Xstrata, to do what it has to do to develop the project, but still not compromise the health and safety of the men and women who will work on this project?

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3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Robert Thibault West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, the member referred to what was probably my toughest day also. I had some difficult days as minister of fisheries, but as minister of ACOA in Nova Scotia that was a difficult day.

I remember going to Cape Breton to announce the closure of the mines. The only thing on my mind at that time was probably that I should have taken my guidance counsellor's advice in high school and become a crossing guard. To tell a community that what it has known for hundreds of years is no longer there, it is gone, and that part of the culture that keeps the community together has disappeared all of a sudden is very difficult.

It was a tough time for Cape Bretoners, but they rallied. The federal government at that time put money into the growth fund. We asked people from those communities, some living still in Cape Breton and others living abroad, to volunteer their time and their energies, at a cost to them professionally and personally, to steward the reinvestment into that economy. It was a beautiful thing to watch. We see a lot of those benefits now.

What is unfortunate is a lot of time and ink is spent on the projects that are not working and not enough time and ink is spent celebrating the entrepreneurships of those communities that have been able to take advantage of those investment opportunities and assistance and turn things around.

Like everyone, I see people on airplanes all the time or we meet them somewhere. They talk about Nova Scotia and they talk about going to Cape Breton and the Celtic Colours. It is a beautiful festival. It brings a huge amount of money into Cape Breton. None of that would have been possible if there had not been some government intervention and investment at the beginning to start those projects.

Finally, I will go to the point about the safety of the people. I am quite confident the bill does that because there is no reduction in the criteria at any point. The criteria remains the same. It is the administration of it that is simplified.

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3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Allen Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is quite a pleasure as a member of natural resources committee to speak on Bill C-15, the Donkin Coal Block Development Opportunity Act.

Quite a number of folks have spoken today. Quite a number of my Atlantic colleagues from both sides have spoken on the bill. As we have stated before, basically what it does is facilitate an economic opportunity for Cape Breton Island and the province of Nova Scotia, but I am also going to talk a little later about the spinoff benefit for New Brunswick as well. I think this is a big benefit for Atlantic Canada, especially when it comes to coal.

The bill creates a legal framework for the mining operation at the Donkin coal block. The economic opportunity is to be able to bring that coal to the surface from an area some three kilometres offshore Cape Breton and transport the coal to market. The operation, as people have said, will produce 275 direct jobs, potentially as many as 700 indirect jobs, and hundreds of millions of dollars for the provincial economy in terms of salaries, equipment and a range of goods and services.

The opportunity came about on December 13, 2004, when the energy minister of Nova Scotia, Cecil Clarke, sent out a press release. Some of the benefits of this opportunity, stated a news story, would be:

Winning bidders will have to agree to hire local workers and buy goods from Nova Scotia businesses. After an operator is chosen, it will still take months or even years to get the mine running.

That last statement is absolutely true in regard to the complexity of this.

My colleague, the member for Cape Breton—Canso, talked earlier today about the price of coal being at almost record highs of almost $100 a tonne. That is a tremendous development and means a tremendous amount of opportunity for employment in the area.

Since that time, Nova Scotia announced that the Xstrata Donkin Coal Development Alliance was the successful bidder. The company immediately launched a multi-million dollar study to evaluate the potential for bringing the mine into production. The study is currently under way, but the major key decision point on this is February, and if all goes well a positive decision on mine development will be made in August.

Approximately 25 people are currently working at the Donkin mine site. Xstrata has drained the water from the two tunnels dug to the coal face in the mid-1980s by the Cape Breton Development Corporation and the company is now preparing to drill into the coal seam to obtain further information on the resource.

From a resource standpoint, everything appears favourable. However, for Xstrata to come to a positive decision, there is another issue that needs to be clarified, and that is Bill C-15.

As previously mentioned, the Donkin coal block is located offshore Cape Breton Island. Both the Governments of Canada and Nova Scotia claim ownership of the resource. Accordingly, they both believe they have an obligation to regulate the resource. This creates quite a level of uncertainty for Xstrata and puts the company in a position where it is faced with two regulators. Facing even one regulator can be a daunting task, but facing two is incredible.

However, Bill C-15 will remove this uncertainty. It would make clear to Xstrata, its employees and the regulators what laws will apply and who should enforce them. Because regulatory regimes affect costs, Xstrata is looking for regulatory certainty before its February 2008 decision point.

When I think about some of this regulatory uncertainty, I think about our major project office for some of these major projects in the mining area. I think of the potential that this will give some of these projects to get off the ground.

One of those major projects is coming to the fore in New Brunswick in my riding of Tobique—Mactaquac, where a major tungsten mine potentially will be developed in the Stanley-Napadogan area. What a tremendous opportunity this is for an area that has seen its forest industry ravaged. It is a tremendous opportunity. I think this regulatory aspect will certainly help that.

Bill C-15 is the result of a cooperative federal-provincial effort. The objective of the effort is to establish regulatory clarity to facilitate economic development and to do so in a way that is acceptable to both governments. In March of this year, federal and provincial officials agreed on an approach. This was quickly followed by a period of federal-provincial consultations with the public. These sessions resulted in assurances that labour, community and industry groups both understood and supported the proposed regime.

Employee-employer groups, community organizations and the Canada--Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board were all supportive. In June, cabinet approved the drafting of the legislation required to get this done.

The legal framework proposed in Bill C-15 covers resource development and a number of labour matters. The latter includes labour standards, industrial relations and occupational health and safety, which is so important when we look at the development of these underground mines and consider the inherent danger that goes with them.

The bill provides the governor in council with the authority to make regulations incorporating provincial laws into the body of federal law. Bill C-15 also excludes corresponding federal laws from applying to the Donkin coal block.

The laws would be incorporated as amended from time to time by the province and with other adaptations if necessary. For example, we would not incorporate anything that was in conflict with the federal claim to the offshore without first amending it. Any provincial law incorporated federally would be administered and enforced by the provincial official responsible for the relevant provincial law.

By means of this legislation, both levels of government will be able to work together to ensure that occupational health and safety provisions will serve the Donkin miners well. More specifically, Nova Scotia's trade union act, the occupational health and safety act and the labour standards code will be incorporated into federal law through regulation should this bill become law.

Nova Scotia has accepted to amend its occupational health and safety laws to include certain elements that exist under federal law. This is meant to provide the highest level of protection for workers. The labour matters covered by Bill C-15 will not in any way sacrifice accountability, transparency or health and safety for the sake of regulatory efficiency.

Bill C-15 also clarifies the matter of royalties. These will be collected by the province and then remitted to the Government of Canada. An equivalent amount will then be provided for the province. The bill requires that an agreement concerning royalties with the Province of Nova Scotia is subject to the approval of the governor in council. For greater certainty, it has been made clear that the User Fees Act does not apply to any fees contained in provincial laws incorporated by reference.

Why this bill? It is so important and so critical. The coal that will be produced by the Donkin coal block development is a most valuable resource, one that can contribute to the economic well-being of Cape Bretoners and Canadians as a whole.

One only has to look at the people who worked in the mines before the last underground mine was shut down in 2001. Since then, some of these folks have been working out west. What a tremendous opportunity this represents for these people to return, just like a lot of people from Atlantic Canada would.

Not only does this development represent a huge potential benefit to Cape Breton from a mining perspective, it also could represent a new source of coal for the region's electric generating stations. This mine could bring on stream an additional five million tonnes per year of Canadian coal into the market.

While 16% of Canada's supply of electricity is generated from coal sources, that percentage is much higher in Nova Scotia, where 60% of electricity comes from coal and roughly 15% to 20% does in New Brunswick.

Nova Scotia Power has four major coal stations in operation that use approximately 2.5 million tonnes per year, with the two largest stations accounting for the majority of the use. Those are the 600 megawatt Lingan plant and the 300 megawatt Trenton plant. These generating station investments are important to maintaining competitive power rates in Nova Scotia for the over 460,000 customers of the utility.

Having a homegrown source of coal that could ultimately replace imported coal could be a very important cost and security of supply benefit to Nova Scotians, and to Atlantic Canada for that matter. New Brunswick has a 458 megawatt coal plant at Belledune, which is equipped with scrubber technology and could be a beneficiary of this.

It is also important to note that Nova Scotia Power recognizes that generating clean electricity and energy is important. The utility has taken steps to implement cleaner-burning fuel technology, such as the circulating fluidized bed technology at Point Aconi, with announcements of millions of dollars to equip other stations with scrubber technology.

In fact, in the summer of 2006 there was a project undertaken to retrofit the Lingan plant with pollution control technology for NOx, which has announced another potential $170 million project to put in scrubber technologies to lower the sulphur dioxide emissions, a technology very similar to what exists at our Belledune plant in northern New Brunswick.

These developments are in addition to the announcement of over 200 megawatts of wind power generation in the province.

Nova Scotia, Atlantic Canadians and the utilities recognize the importance of generating clean electricity. We recognize the importance of taking positive steps to develop renewable resources, but we also have to face facts. Our generation's profile is based on thermal. It will take a while for us to wean ourselves off that, but we cannot afford to just leave a stranded investment of many billions of dollars out there with no way to collect dollars of revenue against it.

I believe that the measures being taken in Bill C-15 will provide the regulatory certainty required for the Donkin coal block project to proceed. It will provide the highest level of protection for the workers involved. It will permit both levels of government to retain their current positions with respect to ownership and jurisdiction. It will facilitate the economic development of Cape Breton Island and, I would maintain, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and all of Atlantic Canada.

I would add that Bill C-15 is also an outstanding example of cooperation between governments to fulfill a common interest in seeing the development of the Donkin block. By introducing this legislation, the Government of Canada has demonstrated its commitment to the economic development of the Cape Breton community and to Nova Scotia as a whole.

Bill C-15 will clarify those occupational health and safety regulations that apply. We know the dangers that are faced by coal miners and we know that safety is paramount to coal miners. We have seen this in situations that have happened over the last year or two in the U.S. and other countries.

By eliminating confusion over who would protect these workers, we hope to protect them better. I know that Nova Scotia has come a long way since Westray as well. What this does for the Donkin mine is ensure that there are local people who know the resource and who will be there to inspect these mines and inspect them in a timely manner.

Nowadays, as previous speakers have suggested, the technology exists that can burn coal cleanly, and we have an opportunity here to employ hundreds of people in Cape Breton Island. We have an experienced workforce in the coal mining industry and a community that wants this development.

The Donkin enterprise will give us another chance to revive the coal mining industry in Cape Breton. What a great story that is for us. We are certainly pleased to see that legislation was passed already in the Nova Scotia legislature. Now it is up to members here in the Parliament of Canada.

We have heard a tremendous number of positive comments about this legislation today. I suspect that this legislation would not have any problems at committee and in the House. I call upon all my colleagues to support Bill C-15, to move this forward and to make Atlantic Canada a positive development opportunity.

Donkin Coal Block Development Opportunity Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. There have been discussions among the party House leaders and I believe that you would find consent for the following motion regarding the bill we have been debating. I move:

That, notwithstanding any standing order or usual practices of the House, Bill C-15, An Act respecting the exploitation of the Donkin coal block and employment in or in connection with the operation of a mine that is wholly or partly at the Donkin coal block, and to make a consequential amendment to the Canada--Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Resources Accord Implementation Act, be deemed to have been read a second time and referred to a committee of the whole, deemed considered in committee of the whole, deemed reported without amendment, deemed concurred in at report stage and deemed read a third time and passed.

Donkin Coal Block Development Opportunity Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Does the minister have the unanimous consent of the House to move the motion?

Donkin Coal Block Development Opportunity Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.